Sami Vingron – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Sami Vingron – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Nov 28, 2023 By JTS Senior Sermon | Commentary | Senior Sermon | Vayetzei

Vayetzei All the Class of 2024 Senior Sermons

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Listening with Yaakov

Listening with Yaakov

Nov 24, 2023 By Naomi Kalish | Commentary | Vayetzei

A Thanksgiving meal, or any family gathering, in our time of divisive politics and social polarization can be a source of great anxiety. How will we remain civil to those with whom we profoundly disagree? Parashat Veyetzei provides us with a model of how one of our ancestors, Yaakov, managed conflict with a family member and was able to move toward reconciliation.

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Isaac: Schlimazel, or Something More?

Isaac: Schlimazel, or Something More?

Nov 17, 2023 By Aiden Pink | Commentary | Toledot

In his book The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defines one of the most useful words in our tradition: “When a schlimazel winds a clock, it stops; when he kills a chicken, it walks; when he sells umbrellas, the sun comes out; when he manufactures shrouds, people stop dying” (347).

In the entire Torah, it seems, there is no bigger schlimazel than Isaac.

At the beginning of his life, he’s nearly killed by his father. At the end of his life, he’s deceived by his son. He barely participates in the courtship of his own wife. Isaac is hapless, passive, an eternal victim—the archetypical schlimazel.

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Who Was Abraham’s Last Wife?

Who Was Abraham’s Last Wife?

Nov 10, 2023 By Claire Shoyer | Commentary | Hayyei Sarah

Parashat Hayyei Sarah focuses on the devoted relationships between two of our patriarchs and two of our matriarchs. We begin by reading of how Abraham strove to fully acquire the land for Sarah’s burial. We then see that Abraham wanted to find a fitting wife for his son, Isaac. Abraham’s servant brings back Rebecca, and she and Isaac begin a partnership which seems supportive and loving—as soon as Isaac and Rebecca meet, we read that Isaac loves Rebecca and finds comfort in her after his mother’s death (Gen. 24:67). In both accounts, we see that each of these pairs was specifically well-matched. Why, then, does the parshah end by saying, “And again, Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah” (Gen. 25:1)? Who was this additional wife, Keturah, and why do we read about her in the context of the loving relationships of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebecca? Is Keturah introduced simply to transmit information about Abraham’s geneaology, or does her presence signify something deeper?

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Jonathon Adler – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Jonathon Adler – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Nov 8, 2023 By JTS Senior Sermon | Commentary | Senior Sermon | Short Video | Hayyei Sarah

Parshat Hayyei Sarah All the Class of 2024 Senior Sermons

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Hagar’s Tears and Ours: Choosing Connection over Despair 

Hagar’s Tears and Ours: Choosing Connection over Despair 

Nov 3, 2023 By Ayelet Cohen | Commentary | Vayera | Rosh Hashanah

Genesis offers us narratives of our biblical ancestors struggling with many of the deepest challenges that we may face in our lives, whether in our familial or interpersonal relationships or as we face the uncertainty, fear, and loss of living in a broken world. Throughout the Genesis cycle we encounter families who accept the fallacy that there is not enough blessing to go around, and thus make terrible mistakes. Parents choose favorite children, siblings are pitted against each other as rivals. This year we return to these stories shattered by the horrific violence of the October 7th massacres, as we see a new and terrifying chapter unfold in the primal conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. We know that there is enough suffering and trauma and outrage to go around. We wonder if there is enough compassion or enough hope to carry us through this time.  

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Josh Bender – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Josh Bender – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Nov 2, 2023 By JTS Senior Sermon | Senior Sermon | Short Video | Vayera

Josh Bender Senior Sermon on Parshat Vayera

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What Should We Call Our First Foremother?

What Should We Call Our First Foremother?

Oct 27, 2023 By Sass Brown | Commentary | Lekh Lekha

Twice in this week’s parashah our first foremother’s name is disrupted. First, when she is abducted into Pharaoh’s household in Egypt, she seems to lose her name entirely. Then, in the concluding chapter, God changes her name while she is off screen. In both moments of unnaming, Sarai is voiceless. In both, Avraham receives something grand—a gift, a covenant—while Sarai is elsewhere. Given how similar these two events are for Sarai, it feels like they are asking to be compared. On the other hand, one is an interpersonal episode of a woman suffering while her husband thrives, and the other is the initiation of Avraham’s covenant. Can the mistakes Avraham made in Egypt shed light on the holy charge he receives in the conclusion of Parashat Lekh Lekha? 

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Gisele Baler – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Gisele Baler – Senior Sermon (RS ’24)

Oct 25, 2023 By JTS Senior Sermon | Commentary | Senior Sermon | Short Video | Lekh Lekha

Parshat Lekh Lekha All the Class of 2024 Senior Sermons

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What Is the Rainbow Really Teaching Us?

What Is the Rainbow Really Teaching Us?

Oct 20, 2023 By Tani Schwartz-Herman | Commentary | Noah

In this week’s parashah we learn the origin story of the rainbow as a symbol. Following the catastrophic flood in which God destroys nearly every living thing, save for Noah and his family and the animals he brings with him onto the ark, God promises never to bring about destruction on the same scale again.  God establishes the rainbow as a sign for this covenant, declaring that it will be a reminder for God always: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures . . . ”

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An Anthology of Beginnings

An Anthology of Beginnings

Oct 13, 2023 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Bereishit

The Torah seems to begin twice, in a way not paralleled by any other creation narrative from the ancient Near East. It uses the conventions of ancient literature in a new way. By beginning twice, the Torah announces what sort of a work it intends to be: it is less a book than an anthology, a compendium of numerous viewpoints and competing teachings.

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Dancing with Torah

Dancing with Torah

Oct 6, 2023 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Simhat Torah

Judaism’s richness comes from having two Torahs—the Written Torah [Torah shebikhtav], which Moses receives from God, and which we will soon celebrate on Simhat Torah,and the Oral Torah [Torah shebe’al peh], the Torah of commentary that extends from the ancient rabbis to today’s rabbis, scholars, and students of Judaism’s sacred texts and traditions. 

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Why We Gather

Why We Gather

Sep 29, 2023 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Sukkot

This past motzei Shabbat marked 38 weeks since the demonstrations in Israel against the judicial overhaul began. Once again my social media accounts lit up with photos of the streets of Tel Aviv engulfed in crowds, powerful images of democracy in action. I find the sight of so many people gathering to be awe-inspiring and uplifting, and in a ceremony associated with the holiday of Sukkot, I have found some clues as to why witnessing and joining such gatherings can be so moving.

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Weren’t We Just Forgiven?

Weren’t We Just Forgiven?

Sep 22, 2023 By Rabbi Joel Seltzer | Commentary | Ha'azinu | Shabbat Shuvah

On all other days, this blessing is a powerful reminder of the countless missteps that befall us every day of our lives. And each day, by asking God for forgiveness, we are being conscious and intentional about the types of people we wish to be. We recount—then we recommit. But on motzei Yom Kippur, this blessing makes little sense. Is it possible that I committed a sin in the last thirty seconds since the gates closed at the end of the Ne’ilah service? Shouldn’t this be my most blameless moment of the entire year, and yet, here I am, beating my breast and beseeching God for forgiveness yet again?

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Clay in the Potter’s Hand

Clay in the Potter’s Hand

Sep 15, 2023 By Rabbi Joel Seltzer | Commentary | Yom Kippur

Several years back, my wife and I took a summer vacation on Block Island, a 17-mile sanctuary of beaches, water, and biking off the southern coast of Rhode Island. We checked into a lovely bed and breakfast and made our way down the path towards our secluded beach cottage. The room was tiny, but a […]

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The Torah’s Stories—and Our Own

The Torah’s Stories—and Our Own

Sep 15, 2023 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah

During these Yamim Noraim—these Days of Awe—we might expect to be poring over biblical texts that exhort us to act honestly, compassionately, and justly: the Ten Commandments perhaps, or the Holiness Code of Leviticus 19. Instead, the Torah portions we read as we usher in the New Year are stories that are filled with unbearable pain—first, in Genesis 21, Abraham banishes his wife Hagar and their son Ishmael, and then, in Genesis 22, he almost sacrifices his son Isaac. As we gather to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, why do we hear stories that are filled with themes of alienation, betrayal, and loss?  

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Returning with God

Returning with God

Sep 8, 2023 By Mychal Springer | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh

This week’s Torah Portion, Nitzavim, speaks profoundly about teshuvah, the literal and figurative struggle to return to God. When we turn back to God “with all [our] heart and soul,” the parashah tells us, then God “will bring you together again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you” (Deut 30:3). Being scattered is a state of disorientation and disconnection. Teshuvah represents a coming home.

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What It Means to Enjoy

What It Means to Enjoy

Sep 1, 2023 By Alan Cooper | Commentary | Ki Tavo

In Deuteronomy, the Torah commands us no fewer than eight times to “rejoice” in the fulfillment of religious obligations. Two of those occurrences are in this week’s parashah. The first comes after bringing first fruits to the sanctuary and thanking God for the harvest: And you shall enjoy all the goodness (vesamahta bekhol hatov) that Adonai your God has bestowed upon you and your household, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst.

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Do Not Turn Away—Then and Now

Do Not Turn Away—Then and Now

Aug 25, 2023 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Ki Tetzei

In 1861, as a great conflagration spread across our nation, the Bostonian abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Samuel Joseph May published a slender tract entitled The Fugitive Slave Act and Its Victims, an impassioned polemic against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This federal law, born of the Missouri Compromise of the same year, required all federal, state, and local authorities, including those in free states, to return fugitive slaves to their masters, while also criminalizing any attempt to aid and abet a slave seeking to escape bondage. May, a Unitarian pastor, thought it fitting—and rightly so—to grace the tract’s title page with the King James translation of Deuteronomy 23:16–17, which I cite here using the JPS translation: “You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place that he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.”

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Who Are You to Judge?

Who Are You to Judge?

Aug 18, 2023 By Ellie Gettinger | Commentary | Shofetim

Writing about Shofetim (Judges) feels like too much at this particular moment, when the judiciary of both the United States and Israel are beset by challenges. In Israel, judicial reform pursued by the ruling party is shifting the balance of powers, pushing Israeli society to a schism. In the US, questions of judicial ethics are at the forefront. What does it mean to have a lifetime appointment, and what is the line between friendship and bribery? Shofetim positions the need for righteous people to preside over courts while acknowledging the ever-present challenge human nature presents to this ideal.

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